Kerbside at midnight, eating noodles in the heart of London.
I was perched on the bonnet of Saj’s Daimler, with my mates’ RX-8 and 180SX parked either side of my E38. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but there is always a common theme whenever we get together: Food is involved, and it always ends up much later than we’d originally planned.
Cars are very much the focus of my social life, as is the case with most of my friends. Yet for all our common interest, we do vary wildly in our approaches to modifying.
The variety of style and taste in the car scene is so vast that it’s almost impossible to keep track of it all, even if people do like to paint us with the same brush.
Speaking from my own experience living in England’s capital, there are so many different aspects of car culture crammed into one city it boggles the mind. I’ve always been a German car fan, and BMWs have been a part of my family since i was little. I’m also mildly (read: highly) obsessed with Japanese VIP-style cars, as well as German tuning from the ’80s and ’90s.
That’s why it was only right that – at the age of 19 – I found myself in possession of a BMW 740i Sport. One that just happened to be a single-owner Japanese import with very honourable low miles. This obsession may have slightly influenced Saj over the course of our friendship too, as I managed to convince him it’d be a good idea to purchase a supercharged, long-wheelbase Daimler Super V8.
I’ll get into them in more detail in another article though. VIP is one of those styles that hasn’t been explored much in the UK, and both myself and Saj are keen to correct that in the future.
The UK car scene right now is very much a melange of styles, ranging from street drifters to supercar owners and everything in between – something I’m fortunate to see on a daily basis being London-based. That’s not to say it’s all worth shouting about. Like ‘em or not, you can’t attend a typical meet nowadays without the sound of launch control and pop and bang maps in the air as if it were the Battle of the Somme.
You could argue that things were different in the Max Power magazine era, but in reality, making a load of noise and (trying) to impress a crowd is just a part of British car culture – love it or hate it. DSG farts might be all the rage right now, but go back 10 years and it would’ve been a K&N filter breathing some kind of life into a rev-happy Zetec motor.
What’s wildly different is the way we car fans get our content. No longer are you waiting for a magazine or website to post galleries from events; you’ve got Snapchat and Instagram live streaming everything as it happens – burnouts, revving and the occasional loss of talent included. We’ve all seen the videos of Mustangs leaving car shows…
Are driving standards getting worse, or are we just documenting more of it? Cue the cries of every tuned or sporty car being labelled an illegal street racer.
That’s just part of being a car fan – you learn quite quickly to take the rough with the smooth. It’s easy to look at the past as being a golden era for tuning, but anything which generates enthusiasm for the next generation of petrolheads is no bad thing in my eyes. Be it cruising, YouTube or the supercar lifestyle.
And keep in mind this is one particular snapshot from one part of the world. How car culture differs elsewhere is something that continually inspires me. I’ve been reading Speedhunters for near on half my life, and I’ll never forget how fascinated I was reading features at lunch when back in school.
Dino’s old articles about Bee Dragon cars really struck a chord. These impractically low, heavily cambered, big-body cars were completely unlike anything I’d seen in the UK at the time. Mark, Ben and Ryan’s wild range of features from hot rods and lowriders in Japan to their yearly Nürburgring trips and SEMA coverage show the difference in how car culture has gone from groups of friends doing something fun to a multi-million dollar powerhouse of an industry.
It was a welcome escape from the loud, race ‘inspired’ hatchbacks I was used to seeing. I guess it explains a lot about my interests now too. Whether reading about Japanese car meets at Daikoku PA, canyon carving classics in California, or old road trip stories on the way to Wörthersee, I was hooked and I couldn’t get enough.
That’s the whole point of Speedhunters after all, isn’t it? To allow us all to experience more than just what we have in our immediate vicinity. To be honest with you, that’s the biggest reason why I’m proud to be a part of it.
Opening people’s eyes to the wider world is never a bad thing, regardless of the context. In car circles, it just goes to show how many of us enthusiasts there are out there, and how differently we can all approach the same subject. I know there’s a lot of argument for car enthusiasts to be whole, and always be kind to one another and appreciate what we’re all doing all the time and hold hands whilst singing Kumbaya. I disagree.
I feel as though the occasional argument, the passionate debates, the focussed events and meets, all of it is beautiful. Doing things differently is what makes us human, and it’s inevitable that there will be some conflict as a result. If people simply focussed on building their cars for themselves or to have a good time, this wouldn’t be the case. Some debate is great, and makes for very entertaining Facebook arguments.
Yet there will always be some who take things a little too seriously and focus on the negatives more than the positives that come from car culture. Social media really is a double-edged sword. It allows us a wealth of car culture that we otherwise wouldn’t see, but there are far too many people hung up on chasing likes and getting the approval or followers instead of genuinely being part of it all.
I’ll take it back to my 740i. Owning it has led to me making friends and even colleagues. I’ve gotten to know people that I otherwise wouldn’t know without it. I’d even go so far as to say it’s contributed to me writing for you here.
So that’s what car culture means to me in 2020. As deep as I can get about it, at its core it’s a group of mates in my garage, late at night, surrounded by our cars in various states of disrepair whilst eating something fairly unhealthy and chatting a lot of crap.
That won’t necessarily be everyone’s experience though, so now we’ve come full circle I genuinely would like to know: What does car culture mean to you?
Photography by The Speedhunters